Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Monday 31 December 2007


Picking up a challenge from Claude, here's an end-of-year review sort of thing:

Still grateful: that I have my health, most of my wits and the ability to support myself.
Still reading: anything I can lay my hands on.
Still hate: that there are just too many things to read, to look at, to listen to.
Still grateful: that I live where people are free to create so much, and I'm free to read what I like.
Still starting: what I can't finish, half the time.
Still laughing at: the wrong moments. And the ridiculously smug and self-satisfied.
Still hate: the ridiculously smug and self-satisfied when they think everyone not like them is morally deficient.
Still not: voting Conservative. Or smoking.
Still drinking: too much tea.
Still sticking: to my sofa far too much.
Still feeling: peripheral. And occasionally pointless.
Still missing: whatever it was I came in here to find.
Still being: probably too polite for my own good.
Still not wearing: prosthetics of any kind.
Still making: whoopee - quietly and in moderation.
Still wondering: about the choices I didn't make when I stuck to the cosy option.
Still lacking: the self-belief to make those choices.
Still glad: I summoned up the courage to change my life when I did. Even if I should perhaps have done it earlier.
Still working: to live, and not the other way around.
Still will never: vote Conservative. Or smoke.

Sunday 30 December 2007

Fans and folderols

If you walk just a little bit away from the traffic and tourist crowds in central Greenwich, into the quiet Georgian streets beside the park, you'll find the Fan Museum, just across the street from the Greenwich Theatre.

This is quite a revelation if all you, like me, know of fans is the flick and flutter that underlines some witty (or smutty) remark from a Sir Foppington Sneerwell in a Restoration comedy (by the by, whatever happened to Restoration comedy? It used to be all the go, but we don't seem to hear much of it nowadays).

In two ground-floor rooms, there's a permanent exhibition of techniques and materials used to make fans - including a fan of ivory so delicately pierced and worked that it looks like the finest muslin - and some samples of basic types, including a fascinating all-purpose job with a little mirror, a thimble and compartments for a sewing kit and smelling salts. There's a final nod to modern industrial and battery-powered fans, but they're not what we've come to see, are they?

In two rooms upstairs is a temporary exhibition, currently on a theme of "Celebrations", with plenty of examples from the collections. Mostly French, with some Italian, Spanish and English examples, commemorating variously royal weddings and births, revolutionary anniversaries, the first balloon ascents, Christmases and New Year celebrations. The stars are the fans by Gauguin and Sickert.

The earlier they are, the more classical many of the decorative themes (a handy explanation here of how to tell your Cleopatras from your Calypsos): but there are special party fans from the nineteenth-century (some beautiful art nouveau peacocks in mother of pearl, and some rather gruesome embossed paper pugs and cats), and calendars as commercial promotions.

Downstairs at the back is the Orangery, a modern building but painted in vaguely Georgian style with trompe-l'oeil flowers and trees, which offers teas on Sundays and Tuesdays (buy a ticket at the desk). A "half tea" for £3.50 included a large pot of properly strong tea, two warm scones with jam and cream (whipped, though, not clotted) - in proper dishes, hooray, not those fiddly sachets. A full tea at £4.50 includes a cake.

Friday 28 December 2007

Some Christmas logodaedaly

In the true spirit of a family Christmas, I think I shall treat you to the benefit of one of the books I was given.

I don't think I can quite sustain a complete consuetudinary to the tralatitious Christmas celebration, but you may take it from me that our gulosity deliciated in my sister-in-law's magirologistic skills - no omophagy here. We are hardly prone to polydipsia, but we can appreciate a certain nippitate nittiness at this time of year - thank goodness, not a trace of the jumentous! Of course, there was much galimatias, but on the whole we avoided the risk of becoming temulent or succumbing to the woofits.

The children there were delightful as ever: not at all mammothrept - not a sign of momurdotes. Of course, there were times when might wish for a sitooterie, particularly when a grandparental whigmaleery presented a three-year old with one of these. Oh the rimbombo!

How was your Christmas? Were all your gifts cromulent? An autogeneal curwhibble, perhaps, or something from the knackatory? Were the presents you gave crumenically laetificant?

Friday 21 December 2007

Thank goodness for market stalls. I finally gave into winter today and bought a pair of gloves - only £1.99, so I won't mind too much if I manage - as I usually do - to lose one within a few weeks.

I suppose I ought to do the old mums' trick of threading them on elastic up one arm of my coat and down the other.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed in my paper that someone was selling an all-in-one scarf and gloves - sounds perfect, till you start to think what might happen if the scarf's wrapped around your neck and you suddenly try to hail a bus or have a conversation in Italian (perhaps that's why the only one I can find online is on sale in Japan).

Another of those wonderful ideas that might not be quite so clever is the single slipper/footwarmer for both feet that you occasionally see advertised in the back end of magazines for the comfy-minded. They make me wonder what happens when the doorbell rings and a forgetful wearer rushes to answer it......

Monday 17 December 2007

Films I'm so glad I didn't pay to see, part the umpteenth

One good thing about being a bit of a stick-in-the-mud is that I find I don't regret not going to the cinema that often, and finding that I can see on TV things I let slip by.

Another is finding that something I wouldn't have paid to see anyway turns out to be a real stinker. I went to a festive dinner and DVD show with a group of friends last night: someone had chosen The Holiday, as it was vaguely Christmas-themed. Oh dear, what a waste of time and some good actors. It's supposed to be a romantic comedy based around a home exchange between two women who want to get away over Christmas from their romantic disasters. The English leg is set in Hollywood's mysterious England-land, where it always snows for Christmas, and people who write up society weddings for the Daily Telegraph can afford to live in a twee cottage in Surrey, down a twisting forest path too risky for a hire car to drive down (until it suits the plot for it to do so later on), but still "only 40 minutes from exciting London".

It expects Kate Winslet to be a drippier version of Bridget Jones, who is inspired to realise her strength by a twinkly old screenwriter and a quirky nerd; and who expresses it to the cad (who has turned up on her doorstep in Los Angeles - oh yeah?) in yards and yards of psychobabble (all the women in our group were shouting "Just tell him to eff off!"). It expects Jude Law to change from gadabout drunk to charmingly sad widower with impossibly cute children, and to explain this - with a straight face - by saying "I know I come as a package, and I realise my package isn't very impressive".

Is there some sort of "cute by numbers" kit they issue to Hollywood scriptwriters?

Saturday 15 December 2007

I've reached the age where book tokens are what the young people in the family give to Uncle (i.e., me) rather than the other way around. Or in other words, in our family (perhaps in most) Christmas shopping isn't the stressful, anxiety-ridden nightmare we're led to believe it might be.

It helps me that I'm single, lazy and regularly expected at someone else's Christmas celebrations, so I've not had all that to worry about; and being peripheral to other people's lives puts me in the position of the Victorian child whose anxieties about her party frock were calmed with the assurance that "No-one's going to be looking at you anyway, dear". As long as I don't set out to give something downright offensive, whatever I give is unlikely to upset anyone else's equilibrium, so I don't need to worry too much about the balance between heart, head and wallet that comes into play when buying presents.

So once again, pacing myself over several Saturdays for some repeated trawls for books and consumables gets the job done. I can't claim to be as organised as my mother, who had a whole drawerful of "useful and acceptable gifts" bought throughout the year just in case anyone had been forgotten when the time came (not that stopped her fretting): but that's a useful reminder. It is the thought that counts.

If the weather hadn't been so perishing cold today, I'd have been able to linger and enjoy the decorations and entertainment in Covent Garden this afternoon - as you can see, a genuine balancing act.

Wednesday 12 December 2007


Sitting slack-jawed in front of Spooks (well, it's been a tiring week at work and all I want to do at the moment is hibernate), it took me a while to feel it's all getting a bit.. well, repetitive?

It's the same high-glitz, high-energy mix of moral dilemmas (ends vs. means, individual vs. collective loyalties, lurking doom and count-downs to disaster, in plotlines that are no less improbable for a modish nod to contemporary issues. The "one in, one out" policy for central characters is as rigidly enforced as in the days of uniformed commissionnaires controlling the queues for the one-and-nines. Some praise is deserved for making the geek and an older woman into central, decisive and authoritative characters (is naming her Connie a knowing hommage to Le Carré's Smiley's People?).

But I'm starting to get the impression that, for all Rupert Penry-Jones showing us more than perhaps he intended, his shoulder-rolling walk is starting to look like Roger Moore's eyebrow in semaphoring a performance. And the central conceit of an impossibly small group of people doing all the impossibly dangerous and glamorous and techno-whizzy stuff (no computer system ever breaks down) is starting look - well, as though they work in an office plastered with those signs saying "The Impossible We Do At Once - Miracles Take Longer" and "You Don't Have To Be Mad To Work Here, But It Helps" and take them all seriously.

Saturday 8 December 2007


Charing Cross Road, Saturday afternoon - a crowd outside Central St Martin's School of Art display windows. Why are they all staring at a steamed-up window? Well, it is near Soho - and it was an advertisement for an exhibition at the Barbican: Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now. But this wasn't quite as exciting as all that - it was a young woman licking chocolate off the glass.

Lèche-vitrine, if you didn't know, is the French for window-shopping - but I don't think they imagine it happening from the other side.

Creature comforts

Is there anything better, on a dark, dank, dismal December afternoon, than knowing you've actually made a start on the Christmas shopping, and coming home to Marmite crumpets?

Sunday 2 December 2007


Sitting indoors with the makings of a cold on a wet winter Sunday, catching up on yesterday's newspaper, my eye lights on the word "amusia".

For a moment, I thought of a mythical country where the national sport might be giggling, the national anthem Will You Stop Your Tickling, Jock, and the most solemn day of the year would feature the laying of a wreath of water-squirting flowers to commemorate those who died laughing. But like all utopias, it would have its dystopian side: can you imagine what Kafka would have made of The Laughing Policeman?

As it happens, the reality of amusia would be even worse for me: the inability to recognise music as music. It's discussed in Oliver Sacks's book Musicophilia (another one to add to the pile of fascinating things to find out about), but I remember now there was a flurry of interest about a year ago, about the Delosis online test. (I've just done it again, and from what I recall, my score's gone up since I did it a year ago - I seem to be more aware of rhythmic variations).

We might occasionally debate whether it would be worse to lose one's sight or one's hearing. Heaven knows, I hope never to find out. But if there's one thing worse than losing the hearing of music, it would be having hearing but experiencing music as a meaningless clatter indistinguishable from all the other extraneous noise of the world. Imagine, none of the inspiration or consolations of great music (or of the cheaply potent).

Saturday 1 December 2007

It's a commonplace that one of the best ways to learn a language is to fall in love with a native (I'm bowdlerising a bit, I think): one of the next best is to fall in love with a song.

I picked up on a phrase in one of Claude's posts that called to mind a song sung by Jean Sablon which I have on a 78. And in hunting for an online recording for someone else, I found on Youtube a whole treasure trove of chanson: Sablon, Trenet, Mistinguett, Lucienne Boyer, Damia. In amongst them was this one of Jean Sablon's that I didn't know: